Torah Codes Explained
I found the Discovery Seminar's presentation on Bible Codes very convincing and it has captured my interest. How exactly do the Codes work?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
According to some researchers, the Codes foretell names and places of events throughout human history: Holocaust, Sadat, AIDS. Torah Codes cannot tell us information we don't already know. But what they do tell us is that the author of the Torah knew minute details of world history, to our very age.
The concept of "encoded information" and a "hidden text" in the Torah is a longstanding Jewish tradition. Nachmanides, Rokeyach, the Maharal, the Vilna Gaon, and others refer in their writings to "hidden information in the letters of the Torah."
The reason why Codes have become more “popular” in our time is because modern statistical methods and computers have given us the ability to more easily discover and evaluate these codes.
Before I answer your specific questions, let’s first briefly clarify how the Torah Codes work:
1) ELSs (Equidistant Letter Sequences) are words spelled out in a text by skipping an equal number of letters.
2) Any word may appear several times at different skip intervals in the same text – i.e. the Hebrew word "hammer" may appear in a text every 4th letter at a certain point, somewhere else every 29th letter, somewhere else every 245th letter, etc. One of these occurrences will be the "minimal" ELS. (in this example, the ELS of 4).
3) In the Hebrew text of the Torah, the minimal ELSs of related words (e.g. "hammer" and "anvil") appear encoded in close proximity to each other.
4) Objective experiments are performed on large sets of pairs of words to demonstrate that this effect (the proximity of related ELSs) occurs in the Torah much more often than would be statistically expected.
They are a facet of Torah akin to numerology (Gematria), a mathematical/linguistic forms that the Talmud itself uses to establish certain facets of Jewish law. An example of an ELS code is explicitly mentioned in a commentary on the Torah written by Rebbeinu Bachya in 1291 (Genesis 1:2).
The renowned Rabbi Moshe Cordovero was head of the Rabbinical Court of 16th century Tzfat, Israel. In “Pardes Rimonim,” his commentary on the classic kabbalistic work, The Zohar, he writes that the secrets of the Torah are revealed in its letters through many means, including "skipping of letters" (dilug otiot).
While awaiting his fate during the Holocaust, Rabbi Michoel Weismandel discovered many codes in the Torah, by using index cards and his amazing mental powers.
Yet in the end, two key questions remain: Are the Codes statistically significant? And if so, did God put it there, and why?
Although the answer to the first question has been fiercely debated, several prestigious scientists concluded that they are. After years of rigorous research, two Jerusalem researchers – Doron Witztum and Prof. Eliyahu Rips – produced the extraordinary "Great Rabbis Experiments." They repeatedly demonstrated a level of statistical significance far beyond expectations. They then checked other secular and theological texts – as well as millions of control experiments – but the phenomenon persisted only in the Torah.
To avoid any accusation of tampering, the task of deciding on spellings and constructing the list was delegated to an outside expert, Professor Shlomo Zalman Havlin, head of the Department of Information Studies and Bibliography at Bar Ilan University.
In 1994, the results of their research was published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Statistical Science. Since then, the Codes phenomenon has been reported on all the major television networks, as well as in Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
Harold Gans, a cryptologic mathematician with nearly three decades of experience cracking codes for the United States Dept. of Defense, was initially highly skeptical of their results, and conducted an independent experiment to verify the integrity of the data. He was not only able to validate their work, but using their method was able to extend it by pairing the cities of birth and death with the names of the rabbis on their list. Statistical analysis shows that the presence of these names, dates, and cities cannot be reasonably attributed to mere coincidence, the probability of such an occurrence being vanishingly small.
Dr. Robert Haralick, Boeing Professor of Electrical Engineering and an expert in Pattern Recognition at the University of Washington, has also confirmed the statistical significance of the original Great Rabbis experiment by redoing the experiment using an entirely different methodology.
Despite the controversy, there is high-level rabbinic endorsement for codes research. In 1997 a public statement was issued in Jerusalem by the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Fisher endorsing the validity of codes research, vouching for the integrity of the researchers, and encouraging its presentation to lay audiences.
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach met with the Codes researchers on several occasions, and not only gave his approval to Codes research but also encouraged its use in Jewish outreach efforts.
I'm sure the Codes debate will rage for many years, probably until the Messiah comes. In the meantime, for further research you can read the works of Doron Witztum, the leading codes researcher, whose first book in Hebrew is entitled Meimad HaNosaf (The Extra Dimension).